Major cruise lines have reservations about being required to plug into electric power from land when their liners berth at the Kai Tak cruise terminal in future - because most ships are not equipped for it.
But they are willing to consider a switch to low-sulphur fuel while berthing, which will be made mandatory as early as next year. "I don't think the government should make [shore power] mandatory," Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and chief executive of Carnival Asia, said yesterday.
"It is a must for ships built within the past five years … but not necessarily the others," he said at a cruise forum in Hong Kong, adding that changing to cleaner fuel was easier.
Carnival, the world's largest cruise firm, operates 100 ships under 10 brands like Princess Cruises and Holland America.
The comment came as it emerged that six of eight cruise ships due to call at the port from this June to April next year are not equipped for shore power. Only the Diamond Princess and Queen Mary 2 are able to connect to the power grid on land while berthed, according to a green group and online information.
The connection is increasingly being used in environment-aware ports in the United States to avoid burning of high-sulphur fuel on board while berthed.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying committed the government last week to installing shore power at Kai Tak but gave no timetable. It also remains uncertain whether shore power will be made mandatory for cruise ships when it is available.
Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong, which said ship emissions may affect 280,000 residents near the terminal, wants the government to make it a requirement.
Liu Zinan, Royal Caribbean Cruises' regional vice-president for Asia and managing director for China, said the company would apply the same standard as Europe or America to cruise vessels sent to Hong Kong, but could not spell out which of them were ready for onshore power.
California requires a certain percentage of visiting cruise liners to use shore power. The Brooklyn cruise terminal in New York is also in partnership with big cruise lines on shore power.
According to Friends of the Earth in Britain, most of the 15 big cruise firms scrutinised last year were not ready for plug-in power.
Kai Tak is expected to receive its first liner, Mariner of the Seas - operated by Royal Caribbean International - in June this year.